If you are reading this, chances are you are a lawyer questioning how to develop your book of business. You may even question what specific steps you need to take to put you in the company of your “ideal client.” Good for you. That is the first essential step to attract new clients to your practice.
The Three Pillars
As we know, there are three pillars to a prosperous business, in this case, a law practice. Number one, first and foremost, you must engage in regular relationship-building activities. Think: targeted networking events where qualified target prospects will be. Think: organizational involvement, particularly industry groups, where prospects may be involved, and in leadership. Think: referrals from loyal clients…though you do need to ask for these.
The second pillar of a prosperous business is reputation-enhancing activities. You must “be seen and get known”. Or, the tree in the forest syndrome. You may be the best lawyer in a particular area, but if the “right” individuals are not aware of and know you, you don’t exist.
The third pillar is contact management. You must get and stay connected with your existing and growing network in order to capitalize/exploit the multiplier effect. The more individuals who know, like, and trust you, are more likely to refer you to those in their network who may have a need for your particular legal services.
Attracting New Clients
Studies tell us that it takes 8-11 “touches” to break through the chatter and build name recognition. In addition, it takes 5-7 more times, effort and energy to generate a new matter from a new client than from an existing one. Needless to say, attracting new clients requires concerted effort, time and resources.
So, what should lawyers who are intent to build a book of prosperous business do in order to create the necessary touches, and, by extensions, opportunities? Where is the best place to invest that precious time, effort and resources?
To use a fishing analogy, lawyers much identify the precise type of fish they want to catch and then hang out where they do. The “fish”, of course, are the prospective clients. The place they hang out is typically their professional association. The industry groups in which they are a member, where they go to be with colleagues in similar positions. It is where they learn and keep abreast of industry trends. And, this is where you need to be.
With regard to organizational involvement, many lawyers join yet seldom attend. Or, they select the wrong organization, one which may not be productive for their area of legal focus.
How to invest your business development hours
NO. 1: Stay Out of the Bars
Depending upon your legal focus, it is usually not the best use of your limited time to make bar association involvement your primary business development outlet. That said, if you practice family law, personal injury, trust and estate, criminal defense, or other business-to-consumer practice, expanding your network with other lawyers can result in valuable referrals.
NO. 2: Identify What You Want to Catch
Back to the fishing analogy, the more clearly and narrowly you define your target audience — the profile of your desired clients, the more effective your business development efforts will be. This is a pivotal point to provide direction to your marketing initiatives. Resist the temptation to be all things to all people. If you spread your marketing time and budget too thinly, likely, you will catch nothing.
NO. 3: Think Industry, Not Area of Law
Many lawyers automatically think they should promote their areas of law, such as corporate, IP, environmental or litigation. Clients, on the other hand, look for lawyers who are knowledgable and experienced in their industries, such as commercial real estate, construction, transportation and health care. Think as a client and focus your business development hours on an industry, not your area of law. That suggests that you should become involved in an industry trade association. Many successful law firms have now morphed their practice groups into industry groups and client teams. Other professional service verticals, such as banks and financial services firms made this shift well over a decade ago.
NO. 4: Research and Develop a Short List
There are professional groups for just about everything. It can be confusing and paralyzing knowing what organizations to attend and perhaps become involved in. One simple way to bypass the confusion is to survey several of your best clients (or individuals whom you want to be clients) to see where they go to stay abreast of industry development, for professional development (think: opportunities for speaking engagements), and then check them out. Most professional associations allow for a certain membership category (often “associate member” for those individuals who do not fit into the professional category).
Do some online research. Check out these organizations’ websites. Take a look at the Board of Directors. What about the general membership? Are they decision makers? Can they retain or influence the retention of lawyers? Speak with a Board member about upcoming meetings and opportunities for you to get involved. Be mindful that you are looking for a target rich environment where you will have the opportunity to get involved. Do your homework and develop a short list of organizations to consider.
NO. 5: Select One and Go Deep
Checking out which organization to join can be tricky though it is a bit like dating. You need to feel a chemistry in order to ensure future and ongoing involvement. The best way to begin this process is to attend a meeting or two. Ask one of your clients if you may attend an upcoming meeting as a guest. This is the time to conduct some due diligence, because once you find the right organization, you must become active and invest yourself in the organization, to garner the payoff of client generation.
Though there is nothing wrong with the Chamber of Commerce or other general business organizations, they draw too diverse a membership to allow for productive business development. We suggest you focus in a more target rich environment such as industry trade associations.
Once you identify a professional industry organization to join and become involved, then you must commit to the group.
NO. 6: Go ‘All In’
Once you have identified the right organization, you must get actively involved. Distinguish yourself in this regard as this is where most lawyers whither on the vine. They join yet rarely, if ever, show up. If you commit to being involved, you will see results in direct proportion as your level of involvement. Calendar the meeting dates. Make them a priority. It is here that you will meet qualified targeted prospects. Be prepared to initiate conversations, learn their ‘pain points’ and what keeps them up at night. Build rapport and eventually (with persistence), cultivate relationships. Persist. Add your new acquaintances to your contact list to receive your marketing materials i.e. blogs, e-alerts, etc.
Invest yourself in the process by showing up and making it part of your routine.
NO. 7: Join a Committee and Perform
Once you have joined a new industry group, you should join a committee. This is where the relationships really take hold. Two of the highest visible committees are the Program or Membership Committee. Both are generally active and will afford you the opportunity to meet many new individuals. Volunteer to lead a highly visible project and then perform like crazy. Do what you say. Meet deadlines. Exceed expectations. Do a great job and people will notice.
NO. 8: Sponsorships Get Noticed
Offer to sponsor a meeting or make a contribution in some useful way. Make an impact with your dollars and resist the temptation to spread them too thinly. For example, it is far more effective to select one high profile annual event and own it as the primary sponsor, rather than being one of three dozen bronze sponsors for a multitude of events throughout the year. Choose one and make it matter.
NO. 9: Befriend Future Leaders
Make it a point to befriend key leaders (both current and future) of the organization. Seek them out at meetings. Grab a coffee with selected Board members and Committee chairs. Do some research ahead of time and ask questions about their company, its plans for the future and their role in the organization. Get to know them on a personal level. Be sincere and, by all means, do not ask for business too soon. Focus on building trust, which requires time….remember, 8-11 touches.
NO. 10: Ascend to Leadership
In time, you should seek to chair a committee. As you rise within the organization, seek opportunities to participate in programs and contribute content to the newsletter, website and social media channels, on a regular basis. Check in with the Program Chair and the Newsletter Editor about your interest in helping to facilitate educational programs and provide timely and relevant articles for their members. Find out what they need and help them make it happen.
If you identify the right organization where your clients (and prospects) go, and implement some of the above suggested action steps, you will be recognized as valuable contributor who knows and understands the concerns and issues facing the industry. Along the way, you will develop relationships with individuals in a position to retain and/or refer you.
Remember, it takes time, commitment and perseverance. You can do this! Kimberly Rice